Jesus Army Life - Wastelands

I just dropped a recovering alcoholic off at a rehab after he stayed with us for two days. He's been on a waiting list for a while and is hopeful that he is going to make good on his abstinence. I'm glad we were able to help him avoid this particular temptation during the Christmas period; if all goes well he will be able to rejoin his family and begin to sort out his life.

Yesterday (Christmas Day) we took a walk around a lake and across a few icy fields. There were about thirty of us and it felt like a tribe crossing the wilderness of the frozen tundra. The thick sheet of ice which covered the lake was photo by Scott M Duncan at Flickr.comenchantingly beautiful as the low winter sun dazzled on its frosted glass. There were no clouds and only a setting sun to bear witness to this company of sojourners.

Sometimes the struggle of one life barely seems worthwhile in the light of a harsh continued existence. But when you travel with others, life's questions and even its trials are placed in perspective, beauty becomes the backdrop to the hope of finding a way through and you are reminded that nothing is without purpose even when all seems wasted.

photo by Scott M Duncan at Flickr.com


Touching heaven - Jesus Army Life

detail of fine art photo by Adrienne Eberhardt, from bk2000's collection on flickr.comWe prayed for one of our sisters tonight. It was her birthday yesterday and we were celebrating. Sometimes the presence of God doesn't have to be big fireworks or a fearsome atmosphere, sometimes it can be a quiet tangible moment like it was then. We spoke words of warmth and encouragement; you could feel that something was happening deep inside, and that was it, the moment passed. But God was there, meeting our friend in her need, meeting all of us in our love.

detail of fine art photo by Adrienne Eberhardt, from bk2000's collection on flickr.com


Jesus Army Life - When words are few

More waffle than a dutch pancake.

That was the phrase I learnt tonight, I thought it was so wonderful I had to note it down. And I wonder if it describes my current consternation.

I guess there are times when you realise that everything depends on faith. Project nos 1,2,3 & 4 won't succeed without faith. Relationships 1,2,3,4,5 definitely need faith if they are going to find God's blessing.

photo by malik ml williams of flickr.comBut when it comes to prayer, I try to pour out my heart and find myself talking in circles. The reality is I'm so nervous about the issue, so focused on it working out that I'm often thinking more than I'm praying. The words come but they don't mean much - more waffle than a dutch pancake you might say.

Sometimes I write prayers down because it's the only way I can think/pray straight. But what I'm (re)learning is that to know this God and truly believe him are two separate things. It's good to be able to come to him but to trust him for every work seems to be another bigger step. Yet, isn't that what knowing God is really all about? That's why he's so mysterious, he doesn't want to make it easy, he wants us to learn.

We've got a few people staying this weekend. I know they've been blessed by the experience. In a sense they are benefiting from the enrichment of faith already invested by others. Indeed, so much that we do builds on the faith of the ones who have struggled before us and yet, in contrast, we so easily fear the fight ahead. It is said that 'we stand on the shoulders of giants' and I believe it. Faith, it seems to me, is the tapestry of the future we are already weaving, a reality that we build into. It is the great reward of a God who is able to provide so much for us in the first place.

So why bother waffling?

photo by malik ml williams of flickr.com


Jesus Army Life - Love affair

Do you ever sit back and just drink life in? I don't mean take time to appreciate it, I mean to suck all of its wonder and dynamism into yourself, to know that there is something greater, more powerful, of deeper richness, than you out there and that the very air throbs with its being?

I say 'out there' which is technically incorrect because I feel I am and believe you are a very part of it and yet the source, the power station of this life, is beyond us - unknowable but interactive, inexhaustible and yet intimately close; closer than our brother scripture teaches, closer than my breath I once heard someone declare.

Do you ever stop to listen to his pulse, his harmony? Do you ever just stop to know him, and feel like you are curiously peaking behind the scenes and only to discover animated life in greater intensity, sparkling, infectious, glorious in its effervescence. It feels like breathing in something photo by eggman of flickr.com
new and yet you are simply drawing in the magnificence of God, coming close to the veil, stepping into the thin place.

And all that I feel is joy. And there are times when I've done this, just paused to acknowledge God as deeply as possible from the itch in my toe to the babbling of my thoughts, from the breeze of air to the noises of motion, and simply found myself laughing in humility, embarrassment and delight.

None of this begins to describe the sensation of God's Spirit within or around me, that is something entirely different. It is simply my soul grooving on a celestial vibe - somehow knowing the irrepressible, almighty creator because I choose to let everything sing his glory and he has insisted that his glory be known.

And I don't think that this even come close to describing a small part of what it is to know him. It is barely a facet of the love affair with the divine.

photo by eggman of flickr.com


Jesus Army Life - The unmistakable '?'

I want to express something. I'm probably going to get it all wrong, but there is this person I'm totally excited about. I'm excited because this person is in the habit of staying completely mysterious and yet showing up in my life in the most memorable ways. And I want to search them out, I want to track him down and I want my heart to be his heart. I want to know his will and let his future be my possibility. I'm astounded by his ability to recreate new magic in people's lives, to bring good out of bad, the impossible out of the mundane, faith out of cynicism. He's invaded history countless times and he's so close to my own heart. It's not like I even know him and yet he is present in my soul, and I'm excited by the chase, my life is a spirit-blown adventure. And more and more, his supernatural goodness breaks in to my cold hard reality - bringing an impact to the lives of those I know, whether they believe him or not. He is the unmistakable question mark in everyone's' lives and I want him to be the defining mark in mine.


Jesus Army Life - At the monastery

I popped in on a nun in a monastery the other day, as you do. She was part of the Carmelite order. A couple of friends and I were passing by so we thought we'd just knock on the door. The friars were away, probably off climbing trees somewhere, so she took us into their lounge and we sat down for a chat.

I'm not sure I'll ever forget the event; it was not so much incredible as simply affirming. Here was this little aged lady happily talking about life and her passion for the church to three young men she'd never met before.

The experience seemed to put so much into perspective. She told us about the history of the order (legend has it they existed before the birth of the Christian church as a group of hermits seeking God, but were converted at Pentecost, but they are more well known for St Theresa for Avila). She recounted her own walk with God, having become a nun at 25 and now, 56 years later, not regretting it one bit. She received our questions with tenderness, godly reverence and not a little excitement. There was so much more I could have asked of this woman who'd spent her whole life in prayer, I wanted to learn as much as possible from her.

Perhaps the most encouraging part was to realise that the values which we champion as the Jesus Army, principles which seem to cast us as radicals among other mainstream churches (shared-community, the choice of celibacy and a lifelong covenant commitment) were the same fundamentals reflected in the nun's commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience. These things which we struggle to explain as a 40 years young church were practices enshrined by centuries of tradition in their monastic order. And it didn't stop there: further features like church run businesses, maintaining a healthy distance between the society of men and women, having some live in community and some in their own place, the leadership of men and the ministry of women -- these were characteristics found in their organisation too. Even our characteristic busyness was reflected as this 81 year old woman suddenly realised she was late and with a firm handshake, bid us goodbye and rushed off to vespers.

Right now I', glad to be back at White Stone house. It's Sunday afternoon, we've had six families here for dinner and the many children have been playing in the garden. As friends we have chatted and laughed together -- it's been a blissful afternoon. But I'm left with fond thoughts of the sister we met. I'm recommending to all my friends that if you want to do something extraordinary before the year out, if you've found yourself feeling flat and wondering what life is about, go and spend an hour or even a few days with a nun or monk at a monastery -- you'll find it a life changing experience.


Jesus Army Life - Birthdays

It was my birthday this week. Not that I'm looking for blessings from well wishers, but birthdays in a shared-community are shall we say... interesting.

It's a great opportunity to appreciate the person concerned (in this case me - hooray!) We all gather together and the honorary individual is given a huge cake plus a home-made card signed by everyone. The great thing about this is that the card also includes thoughts, appreciations, encouraging words and perhaps even exhortations. There's usually just one main gift, though many contribute a few smaller ones, usually treats in the form of food. As the cake is brought in a very embarrassing song is sung (it's always the same 'we love you' song, it's awful!) There's a lot of whooping and clapping and finally some prayer with prophecy for the year ahead.

This year (and I'm kind of saying this here so I can remember), the words for me were about a pearl (beauty from suffering) a sugar cube dissolving (individual self denial sweetening the whole) and a city of lights (vision for Worcester coming into fruition).

The important thing is that the individual is honoured, and I know I always come out of these situations feeling loved and favoured.

I can think of some pretty special birthdays we've celebrated lately, like the time we shipped off to the coast for a midnight swim and beach breakfast, or another time where we marked a 21st birthday with the brothers cooking sausages over a bonfire, just singing and seeking God together.

I guess birthdays for us aren't supposed to be self-indulgent so it's useful to cut against the 'my important day' approach and the go-out-and-get-wasted tradition. Hopefully it's used as a time to value the individual as a family and encourage them in the life they have chosen. For me, I try to use it as a time to review how I'm doing spiritually, a time to give the life I've been given back to the One who made me in the first place.


Jesus Army Life - The best medicine

Photo by shindz of flickr.comThere's a lot of laughter tonight. I'm not sure if it's to cover the sadness of an old friend leaving to study or whether it's just new friends drawing close together.

When Paul listed the spiritual gifts I think he should have included laughter. Those who love to laugh or who make others laugh are certainly gifts in themselves. I have friends for whom it would seem there is no cure for their malaise except laughter. But then I can also think of others for whom the medicine is love, and for others faith. Is laughter therefore hope?

That's the kind of spiritual conclusion which would satisfy me tonight

Photo by shindz of flickr.com.


Jesus Army Life - Being broken

Community-life is a certifiably amazing experience. We've just had one person say farewell, when another decides to stay. It brings a lot of life to the house when new people who are with you are discovering the magic of sharing their complete life with others they only slightly know.

But what happens when you've been round the block several times already? And what about when you're actually worn out from doing too much and no longer feel that magic about the place? How amazing can it be then?

I reckon that everyone who lives in a community-house will go through a time of brokenness at some point, for many it will be several times over. (How else can you deal with pouring of you life and heart for someone and it still not working out? - Stay with me here, there's a happy ending...) It all comes out the refusal-to-hide-from-life experience that shared-community is. You choose to love, it doesn't work out how you planned; you have a choice to either run away, or somehow learn to keep going. Somehow you have to find the will to love again, to forgive, and to hope again. It's not all that easy, I speak from experience.

One of the most beautiful things for me is realising that there is a fresh place to store my hope where it will never be crushed. I would write more on this, but all I know right now is that Jesus has promised to return, and in His promise is the assurance of a greater day to which all hope points. Heaven is the home of hope and all that we do now, all our courage and love, is spent in the knowledge that one day it will be worth it. Crucially, knowing that I can trust God with the most precious part of me I feel able to give to others.

Without the will to be available for other people and their needs, community-living can be a nightmare because you don't feel you have enough energy for yourself, let alone anyone else. But if you can stick it out until you find the wherewithal to give again it once more becomes a beautiful, wonder-filled, laughter-lined experience. You can enjoy other people because there is the buoyancy within you to do so.

John-Paul Sartre said hell is other people. I beg to differ. I think 'other people' is where you begin to discover heaven.


It's been all of a blur - Jesus Army Life

Photo by Kaká on Flickr.com
I've been wanting to write here for ages.

And in that sentence seems to be the summary of years of experience.

Living in a community can be challenging, fun, beautiful, inspiring and even exhillerating but all those things mean that it also takes up a lot of time. It means that I've been hunting for opportunities to write but not finding them... Writing for me, is a cumbersome process, and when I'm blogging it takes a good half hour at least. But if you take a look at my daily schedule you'll begin to understand how difficult it can be to squeeze this in.

  • 6.30: Get up, exercise, wash, dress etc.
  • 7.30: Commute to work, pray
  • 8.30: Work
  • 12:30: Lunch (get out for some fresh air, preferably with a friend or hot foot it to the library to read the paper for quater of an hour)
  • 1:15: Work
  • 5:00: Commute home, read (if I have the energy)
  • 6:00: Mysterious half hour which disappears into the ether (usually involves getting a drink, changing clothes, chatting to people, admin or organising stuff, maybe practising the saxophone for 10 minutes)
  • 6:30: Dinner and wash up*
  • 7:45: People come round for the evening community activity: normally a meeting or friendship activity of some sort* (The times evening activities finish vary but it normally crashes into the 10:30 barrier some how, having cleared up, washed up, caught up with folk, driven people home.)
  • 10:30: Someone else is always on the computer! (Not surprising since it is shared by 16 other people.) And this also tends to be an important time for just relaxing with the people you actually live with (it rarely happens during the activity times!)
  • 11:30: I really should be in bed
* People who've experienced living in our community will laugh at this - they know the evenings are never this simple; life is rarely straightfoward in community.

The weekends continue at roughly the same pace. Saturdays involve housework, a bit of time with God and exercise, a big lunch and evening fellowship. Sundays involve church meetings, prayer meetings, leadership type meetings and another big lunch which lasts most of the afternoon (you can understand why I exercise so much).

We joke about 'going to work for a rest' but it can be so true. Community life never stops. Come downstairs in the middle of the night and there's this gorgeous haunting atmosphere of paused time, all the hustle and bustle just waiting, taking a breath before the juggernaught of the next day's activity hits you again.

Don't get me wrong. There will be the odd free evening or afternoon but they become crucial times for seeing important friends or JUST DOING NOTHING! (which occassionally has to be diaried in). I tend to see Friday evening to Saturday evening as a time where I will do things I choose to do (a kind of personal sabbath), but it still involves getting out to see people, doing something fun to build brotherhood, helping a friend with something, that kind of stuff, and it doesn't always happen.

Oh, did I mention volunteering to work in the wider community via the Jesus Centre a few times a month?

Doing the usual stuff like family visits, going on trips, personal projects, just messing around - that still happens too, but you often have to carve out the time, perhaps miss a few community things.

So that's my life, and it's taken me well over an hour to write this...

Photo by Kaká on Flickr.com


R.I.P Daniel Patterson and Noel Stanton - Jesus Army Life

The last few days have been humbling.

Last week I attended the funeral of a popular young man. There were so many people at the funeral that some people had to stand in the car park while the service went on inside. I'd estimate there were about 500 people there. But more than that, there were so many of his friends whom I knew personally, loved personally, there too. He was a crazy kind of guy, always ready to make people laugh, and with a sensitive heart too. And I was deeply touched. He taught me something.

I wondered what kind of impact I'd had on those young friends. Had I ever been too harsh, too judgemental, too critical? I'd never deliberately want to be so, but I'm now keenly aware that with so many people you only get one chance. One chance to show them the Jesus you love, by being the truest, most loving person you can be.

Next week I will attend the funeral of a popular old man. The tributes are pouring in. He's been the leader of my church for some 40 years and the impact he's had on many, many lives seems to me unrepeatable. He was a man who dared to speak truth and stand for truth where so many would settle for a quieter life. But more, what impressed me about him was that he stood for love - a practical, unashamed love, love that was even willing to be harsh if it was going to achieve what was good and right in the end. He had much wisdom too, a man who prayed and listened to God. He stood and many stood with him. And a church was built. He led the way in community and living celibate for Jesus. I know I desire to be someone who will dare to stand as he taught us to stand - till the end, sacrificing all, for Jesus.

I'm sure he made mistakes, God knows my first friend did, but I guess I'm asking what does it all count for? Am I, am I and my friends willing to carry on being real and raw in our faith, to continue loving, to carry on believing in Jesus even though it costs us? Times like these are life changing. It is what I signed up to this Jesus Army for: to be changed and to change others.

Last weekend, someone brought a challenge in church:

'When you make it to heaven and you meet those who died in prison for Jesus, who started revivals for Him, who faced execution in His name, what will you say you did?'

I want to live so I will have something to say.

PattyRest in peace Daniel Patterson

Extraordinary Daniel Patterson - Coventry Telegraph

Noel Stantonand Noel Stanton.

Jesus Army tributes to founder - Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Noel Stanton (1926-2009) - Jesus Army website

Noel Stanton - Man with the Mop blog